Luisa and Lunch, Dec. 26

As we were leaving church this morning, Giovani, the pastor of our Celebrate Recovery program at Iglesia del Camino, asked Dick if he could go to see a young girl who needed a wheelchair here in Antigua.  So, Dick, about six of the kids, and I headed off to meet Luisa. 

We were greeted at the door by Beatrice, a single mom with six children, four of whom are still living at home.  She graciously invited us in, and introduced us to Luisa, her fifteen year old who has severe physical disabilities, and yet seems to be very much aware of all that is going on.  As I talked to her, I explained that "this man" (Dick) was going to bring her a wheelchair.  She instantly looked up directly at Dick, with an incredulous look on her face, as if saying, "Will you really?"

As Dick measured Luisa, I talked with mom about her kids and her life.  She told me that Luisa sometimes becomes very frustrated, and scratches and bites herself at these times.  I asked her if she thought Luisa could use pictures to let her know what she wanted, and mom became very excited, saying Luisa loves to look at books with pictures.  She also said she thinks a good part of Luisa's frustration is at not being able to let her (Mom) know how she (Luisa) is feeling.

So, next week I'll be heading back to Luisa's house with a trial communication book for her.  Her house is only a few blocks away from Hermano Pedro, so it will be easy for me to go and work with her and Mom.  I still have a lot of assessment to do before we can create a good system for her, but I'm excited to get started on this.  With many of the kids away from Hermano Pedro, it's a great time for me to work with her in her home.

Once again I stand amazed at the way things "just so happen."  It "just so happened" that I was with Dick and the kids when Giovanni wanted to go visit Luisa.  It "just so happens" that her house is near Hermano Pedro.  And it "just so happends" that at this time of year I have some extra time!  What was more astounding to me, was that this very morning I was praying that God would guide me to who He wanted me to serve, and that, rather than getting overwhelmed, I would focus on loving the one person who God has put before me at any time.  And, it "just so happened"  that Luisa came into my life.  Now we are praying that it will "just so happen" that there is the very special type of chair available for her when the Hope Haven shop opens up after Christmas vacation next week.  Many kids are waiting for a specialty chair, but Dick feels Luisa is a priority.

After leaving Luisa's I went with Dick and the kids to have lunch at Campero's (where else?) It is getting to be kind of a routine to eat lunch with him and the kids when Dick is in town.  I'm even getting used to the teasing I take from a group of teenage boys (not to mention Dick!), and I think I hold my own pretty well with them.  (Thank you, Jeremy, Jon and Joel, for training me as you were growing up!)  Today we were joined by Olga, so I at least had another girl to share the teasing with!

Since the gang had been so good waiting for us at Luisa's, and I had a craving for ice cream, our next stop was Sarita's where I treated everyone to a cone.  Dick reminded me to tell the kids this was a "Christmas treat" or they would be expecting this treatment every Sunday. (With my love of ice cream, did he think this was a bad thing?)

We walked to Central Park to just hang out for a while, and Olga got a "hair weave" while we were there.  The boys all tried to talk me into letting them get one, but I told them this was a "girls only" treat today.  Somehow I managed to escape their attempts to convince me to get a cord braided into my hair.  I'm still recovering from the last one I had a couple of months ago, that it took Mari and me almost an hour to get out!

Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2010

After a late night on Christmas Eve, the house was silent when I got up at 9 am to begin cooking Christmas dinner.  Mari would be making the turkey, and I was preparing the rest of the meal.  Since Thanksgiving dinner had been such a big hit, the family wanted a repeat of many of the dishes for Christmas.  It felt good to be cooking most of the moring--something I'd done at home for many years.

It seemed hard to believe that we had even more family here today than last night, but it was true.  Tables were placed in the garden area, wherever we could find space, and we spent over an hour eating and visiting.  Once again, pumpkin pie was the high point of the meal. (It is uncommon for Guatemalan's to bake--and they hardly ever make pie or cookies.  My limited culinary skills have become quite the topic of conversation lately!)

After dinner I was able to visit with my son, Jeremy, daughter, Mikayla, and grandson Zachary by Skype.  It was amazing to be part of their Christmas 1900 miles away throught this miracle of technology.  While I was visiting with them, my son Jon, a Marine just back from about 8 months aboard a ship in the Pacific/Indian Oceans, called, and I was able to watch as each of the kids visited with him.  (I later called him in San Diego.)  Zach also had great fun showing Grandma his Christmas presents.

Leo wanted a picture of the "Hernandez women."
What an honor to be included in this group of wonderful ladies.

I have to admit that it's been somewhat difficult, being so far away from my Omaha family for the first time this Christmas.  I will own up to a few tears being shed.  But, as I relfect on this weekend, I am so grateful for the "new" family God has given me here--both through the Hernandez family, and through a some wonderful friends.  I know I am loved and valued by the people I live with and share my days.  I know I am right where God would have me be at this minute, and pray my every move brings Him glory.   I am living in the hundredfold blessing Jesus promised to those who leave home and family for His sake. (Luke 18: 28-31) And that's all anyone can ask for.

Christmas Eve, December 24

Dick with some of the kids who visited his house tonight
My day started early when I attended a Christmas celebration for the nurses in the children's area at Hermano Pedro.  Leslie, another long term volunteer from England, bought pizza, and I brought Coke and homemade cookies for the party.  It was fun to spend time with the nurses in this context, and they had even invited me to be part of their gift exchange.  More and more I'm feeling like I'm a part of what is going on at the orphanage, and more and more am able to make gentle suggestions about how things could be done differently. 

After the party, and spending some time with the kids who are still at the orphanage, I returned home to work on more last minute preparations for Christmas.  My room has become a storage area not only for the stuff I have bought, but also for a variety of food items which cannot be fit into the kitchen cupboards.  It always surprises me that I can fit one more thing into what I already think is an overcrowded bedroom.  Then again, I only have a bedroom to fit everything into, and right now have all the materials from Hermano Pedro stored here too.

I began helping with the cooking for dinner tonight and tomorrow, while also making sloppy joes to take to Dick's later tonight.  Pablo surprised me once again with his many talents when he constructed a huge nativity scene in our inner courtyard.  Besides being an excellent medical student, he is quite the architect and artist.

The final product

Shortly after 3, Dick picked me up and we headed for his house in Chimaltenango, about 30 minutes from here.  He had invited me to spend the evening with him and the kids, and I could think of nowhere I'd rather be. 
The kids even put up lights outside Dick's house

Kids came and went throughout the evening.  Visiting, eating, playing, just hanging out.  They came to get not only their Christmas gifts from Dick, but some attention and reassurance that they were loved and cared for.  As much as I missed being with my kids and grandkids (and I missed them more than I had expected to), being with this group blessed me in more ways than I can describe.  I am grateful to Dick for sharing these kids with me, and even more grateful for the kids accepting me as part of the group. 

Many of the kids who started out at Dick's years ago are now teenagers.  They still have no difficulty giving Dick bear hugs, especially tonight, and make no pretense about how much they care for him, and him for them.  There are now some young kids joining the group, and Dick became a bit sentimental as he talked about the time when the older kids were that age and first starting hanging around his place.  I have a feeling, though, that there will be a whole new group of younger kids finding their way into his home and his heart.

I did get a glimpse of why the kids like Dick's so much, too.  At times, he's still a kid himself. Shortly after I arrived, Dick had to show off his remote-control helicopter.  I'd heard a lot about it, since Dick got one a few months ago (though I don't know how many replacements have been purchased for the orginal), but this was the first time I got to see it, and him, in action.  It's true what they say about little boys never growing up, though this grown up little boy is content with little (rather than bigger) toys.  It was fun seeing this playful side of Dick.  And watching him, I was taken back to Christmas with my kids, only one year ago, when Zach, my grandson got a remote control helicopter.  We sat and watched as the "big boys" (his uncle and his dad) flew it around their living room.

About 9 o'clock Dick and I went down to Fernando's house to share my first Christmas dinner of the weekend.  Fernando's mom made a wonderfully rich meal of chicken, rice and vegetables. We also had a number of cups of  "ponche" a traditional Guatemala Christmas drink of different fruits cooked with cinnamon and sugar. It was a great honor to be included with Dick in the family's Christmas meal.  I think Momma enjoyed having another woman around to talk about recipes, our kids and grandkids, and how we enjoyed all the work that goes into Christmas.  I even got to cuddle her 21/2 month old granddaughter.  When it was time to leave, I hugged Momma and tearfully thanked her for including me, she asked me when I could come back again.  That almost broke me completely.

About 11 Dick brought me back to Antigua, for my second Christmas dinner with Mari, Leo and their family.  I'd been told the REAL celebration begins at midnight, and I was not disappointed when fireworks began exploding in every direction as we all stood outside watching the light show.  Pablo and Manuel also set off their own display right in front of our house.

When the fireworks were gone, we went in  and gather around the manager for a time of family prayer.  This surprised and delighted me at the same time.  Next we ate our meal of Guatemalan tamales, cornmeal stuffed with turkey parts.  I'm told these particular tamales are made only at Christmas.  Of course, there was ponche, and an olive salad, tortillas, and for dessert we enjoyed a meringue Pavlova, prepared by one of our students from Australia. We finally made our way to bed about 2 am, over-stuffed, over-tired, and well-loved.

While I hadn't been worried about being away from my own family this Christmas, I had wondered a bit how it would feel.  Thanks to Dick, the kids, and Mari and Leo's family, I don't know that I've ever spent a better Christmas Eve.  And there's still tomorrow. . .

Christmas Shopping, Dec. 22

Today we made a "quick" trip to Guatemala City to pick up a turkey and a few last minute items for Christmas.  A quick trip this time meant leaving at 7 am and returning home to Antigua before dark.  We did do a bit of shopping, but most of our time was spent sitting in traffic or waiting in line to check out.  At one store, there were only four customers ahead of us, but it took over 30 minutes to reach the check out counter.  It seems that here in Guatemala, everything goes slower (yet the days seem to fly by!).

The shopping centers in Guatemala continue to amaze me.  How there is enough wealth to support them in a country where so many are literally starving strikes me dumb.  I am often stuck by the contrast between the aflluence of America and the poverty I see here.  More and more I am astounded by the realization that there is significant wealth in this country, which does little to help its poor.

Santa in an ornament in a large shopping center in Guatemala City
A fringe benefit of this trip was that I got to see and feel real snow today--believe it or not in Guatemala City.  Yep, we're in the mountains! 

Really, though, the snow was machine manufacted inside the shopping center.  The maintenance crew had its work cut out for it, keeping the floor dry and customers from slipping on the slick tile surface!

As we circled the shopping center to find our way to the main road out of town (all of the shopping areas here seem to have multiple round-a-bouts you need to follow to get out of the parking area--if you don't know the way, you could spend hours driving in circles!) I was surprised to see two familiar restaurants.  I've gotten used to Pizza Hut and Dominos, but was really surprised to see these two US landmarks:

Birthday Parties and Christmas Parades, December 19

Don Leo, Leo Jr., and Mari
After church today, I joined the family to celebrate Leo, Jr.'s birthday.  I still feel a bit uncomfortable being included in "family only" activities, but am really beginning to see that to the Hernandez clan, I am family, even if I sometimes don't feel like it.  For me, this is proving to be a mixed blessing.  I love the acceptance and love I feel, but am having to adjust to once again being part of a family, with all that means.  I didn't realize how self-centered I'd become basically living alone.  Eating when I wanted, sleeping when I wanted, coming and going without having to consider the wishes or needs of anyone but myself.  Once again, God is rubbing some rough edges off of me!

Leo with Douglas
After our lunch at a street restaurant, which is run by a family from San Juan del Obispo and only open on Sunday, we made our way to the area where a Christmas parade was to start at 2:30.  As often happens in Guatemala, the parade finally started about 4.  It was interesting to see, and Leo's two boys were so excited to see Santa come that it was worth the wait.

Many of the "floats" advertize products

These are really young girls
who are celebrating their 15th birthday this year!

Santa arrives riding in
an ox-cart

In Guatemala even Santa has to make way for the chicken buses!

December 17, 2010

Dick has been on the road much of the last few weeks, so we each have had to do our own journaling.  We did spend one Sunday together, though, and I'm taking advantage of the fact that he has posted much more promptly than I have this week, and I'm borrowing his entry. 

Dick wrote:

It is with tears in my eyes that I write the following. I just received word that Alex passed away early this morning. Alex had never been a healthy child and for the past few months he seemed to be hanging on by only a thread and we all know that it would only be a matter of time before he would not be with us anymore, but all of us who knew him will miss him all the same. In nearly ten years that I knew him he never uttered a word but much like Jo Jo who died a few months ago I considered him a close friend. Alex could light up a dimly lit room with his angelic smile and Alex stole the harts of almost everyone that ever met him. I consider it a privilege to have been able to call him my friend. (I learned much from the times I spent holding Alex.  He ministered to my heart in a way I can't explain, but I know I am a different person because I knew him.  I, too, consider it a privilege to call him friend.  And I long for the day I can see him running to greet me in heaven!--Pat)

Last Sunday (Dec. 12) Pat and I decided to drive up to a restaurant that I had never been to, that is located on a hill that over looks Antigua. When we got up there we discovered that there was a car show going on up there. Now those of you that know me know that I have nothing against cars and certainly have nothing against food but some how I felt very out of place. After just spending the week near Huehuetenango visiting with children that were hurting and staving I had a hard time looking at cars that many people were investing so much of their money and time on. I could not help but wonder what a difference all those people could make if they spent even half as much time helping some hurting child as they did polishing their cars. I looked over at Pat and said do you really want to be here? I think that she was reading my mind because she asked,

"Would you rather go to Hermano Pedro and see the kids?"

Fifteen minutes later we were both where our harts were and it was one of the best Sundays that we could ever imagine. You may ask how an afternoon holding hurting and dying children can be a good one. I am not sure that I can explain but the following Journal entry that Pat recently posted may help. Here Dick managed to "appropriate" my journal entry from December 10, about Alex and Fidel.  Pretty slick the way he managed to do that, even though he and I were in different parts of the country!

He's right, though. (Please don't tell him I admitted that!) This was one of the best afternoons I've had here!

Las Posadas, Dec. 15

Today I experienced a different "ritual" which seemed a little more in keeping with the focus of Christmas.

Las posadas means "the inns" or  "the shelters" in Spanish.  A religious and social celebration that takes place for nine nights, from December 16th   to 24th,  the holiday known as Las Posadas commemorates Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter prior to the birth of Christ.  Las Posadas is a reenactment of this difficult journey. 

Yes, that is a rose blooming in the outside garden!
I love Christmas in Guatemala.  Don't even miss the snow!

At Hermano Pedro, the celebration began a bit early, and today it was the children's area's turn to "host" Mary and Joseph for the day. What was most striking about this experience was that it brought our residents with disabilities together with people visiting the clinics, and even folks from the community who came to participate in the procession which wound around the entire hospital and ended in our unit. 

Gloria playing a turtle shell drum
I was impressed by the serious tone of this procession, and really enjoyed the singing that accompanies the procession. (The link at the top of this entry is for a song typically sung during the procession.) It reminded me of Christmas caroling.  It also gave us a great opportunity to teach the Bible Stories leading up to the birth of Christ.  If there's one thing our kids understand, it's not being wanted or welcomed.  I think it was good for them to know that Mary and Joseph, and ultimately Jesus shared this experience.

Our Lady of Guadelupe, Dec. 11 & 12

The "altar" set up at the end of our street
Well, I got to experience first hand a traditional Guatemalan celebration of a feast day of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  I need to put a disclaimer here, making it clear that this manner of celebration is NOT sanctioned by the Catholic Church, even here in Guatemala.  In fact, Mari said that the priests at her church encouraged the parishioners NOT to participate.

It was hard for us to ignore this celebration, however, because it took place right in front of our house.  This "convivio" was sponsored by our neighbor!  So, Saturday and Sunday night, none of us got much sleep, since the music and dancing went on well into the wee hours of the morning.

On Saturday, there were a number of parades.  I'm not quite sure what the purpose of these parades were, but the costumes were reminiscent of Halloween in the States, at its worst.  And, as with all celebrations, it seems, in Guatemala, there were fireworks and "bombas" (M-80's ?).  Again, right outside our front door.

The wall just to the left of the stage
is the wall of our living room!
Talk about "back stage passes"

Sunday was a bit calmer, though I returned from a trip to the airport to find a full stage set up in front of our house.  You could just barely get in the doorway!  I discovered there was to be a rock concert literally three feet away from our living room window.  What I didn't know, however, was that the group, The Ranas (Frogs) is very famous here in Guate.  Guess we should feel privileged that they waved at us as we watched them from one of the bedroom windows!  Actually, though, their music was pretty good.

I don't quite know what to make of all these celebrations, except that it is becoming increasingly clearer to me the influence of the Mayan religion on many of the people here who claim to be Catholic or even Christian (there is a distinction here that is not made in the States).  There is a strong cultural tradition driving the way these days are celebrated that has nothing to do with the religious beliefs of those participating.  They do it for "fun."

If it sounds like I'm being critical of the Guatemalan customs, I'm really not--at least not any more than they are causing me to re-evaluate the way we Americans celebrate many things.  Those of us in the church don't want to admit it, but how many of us feel the need to have alcohol be part of any major celebration? (I'm not condemning those who drink alcohol--only raising the question of why this is a tradition with many of us.)  Why do we over-eat at many of our holidays?  Why do we over-spend, especially at this time of year?  Why do we run ourselves ragged trying to make Christmas "perfect?" 

I've done a lot of reflecting this year on how we celebrate the coming to earth of our Savior. . .and, unfortunately find that much of what I do has little to do with my faith in Him.  Maybe it even distracts me from considering what it really meant for the Lord, God of the universe to be willing to put on one of these frail "skin suits" and become a totally helpless baby. As I read in a devotion the other day:  "The Lord of both worlds [the spiritual and the tangible] descends to live by the rules of one."  So, as I prepare to celebrate Christmas in a different culture, I'm attempting to celebrate it with a somewhat different attitude.  No, I won't give us baking cookies and making candy.  Or buying and wrapping presents.  But I've resolved to take at least one afternoon away from the busyness to spend time with Him Who is the Cause of our celebration.

Time with Alex and Fidel, Dec. 10

This morning I worked on some of the "business" of being a missionary.  When I arrived at the orphanage after lunch, I discovered Ervin had gone home for the holidays.  Again, this is bittersweet for me.  I'm glad he's with his family, and I will much more easily be able to work with other kids, but I already miss him yelling "MA" whenever I walk in the room!

I'd planned on working with him and Julio, but this was one of those days when it seems God laughed at my plans.  Julio, too, was not available because he was going to the "Posada" that was happening at the hospital.  Las Posadas are processions which commemorate Joseph and Mary going door to door looking for a place to stay on the night of Jesus birth.  So, I could not work with Julio either.

I walked from crib to crib checking on the kids.  Many were asleep.  And then I came to Alex.  He is still hanging on to life for all he's worth, though each breath is now a struggle for him.  As I stopped to talk with him and pray for him, I knew I couldn't just walk on.  I needed to spend some quality time with him, even though he was not responsive today.  So we talked and sang and prayed together. 

Soon it was time for his breathing treatment, and he absolutely shreeked when the oxygen mask was placed on his face.  This killed me, as I can't ever remember hearing him cry before.  When the treatment was done, he continued to sob.  Heidi, the nurse in charge today, looked at me and said, "Why don't you just take him outside and hold him for a while."  So, after disconnecting the various tubes connected to his frail little body, that's just what I did. 

I have to admit I'm somewhat fearful holding Alex. He is so frail (I now literally know the meaning of skin and bones) and his back is so contorted from CP that I'm always afraid I will somehow accidently hurt him.  Today, though, that didn't seem to matter.  He needed physical contact to let him know he was not in this alone.  Alex immediately calmed and quieted when I picked him up, and once we were settle outside in a rocking chair, fell into a fitful sleep.

While I was sitting there grieving the struggle of this little one, Fidel came to visit me.  Fidel is a young man with CP who only has use of his feet.  He drives an electric wheelchair specially fitted with a foot control, and has learned to write and operate a computer with his left foot. (I thought I had a picture of him, but can't find it.  Too bad--he's really amazing!) Usually when I've seen Fidel in the classroom, he pretty much ignores me, so I was particularly pleased that he came to the children's area looking for me.  I know he's very lonesome now that most of the young people have gone home.  I've been a bit concerned for him, too, because he tends to struggle with depression.

Today Fidel was absolutely chatty. He not only talked about his computer activities, but was very interested in asking me questions about myself, why I was here, and where I was living.  We talked of things we both enjoy such as cookies (though he's not particularly fond of chocolate) and checkers.  I promised to try to find a game and play with him soon.  When he asked about my family and why I would not want to be with them for Christmas, I simply replied without really thinking, "Because I want to be with you guys here."  He got tears in his eyes, and all he said was, "Gracias."  Then I teared up and we just sat and looked at each other.  I can feel a friendship forming here!

So, was today what I expected?  Not at all.  But once again I learned that what God has in store for me is better than I could plan myself.  I didn't have to do anything but be available, and He used me to touch two folks who seemed very much in need of a friend today.  I think sometimes I forget that friendship, in itself, is a ministry when we invite God into the relationship. Please pray that these two friends of mine will know they are not alone.

Hogar del Ninos de San Francisco de Asis, Patzun Guatemala, Dec. 9

Today I joined Heidi, Amalia, and Brenda (three of the nurses at Hermano Pedro) and visited an orphanage in Patzun, about 2 hours from Antigua on the "chicken bus."  This was the farthest I've traveled by bus to date, and I really kind of enjoy riding them.  Most of the North Americans, and many of the Guatemalans I know would disagree with me, but I've been extremely lucky in encountering drivers which are relatively cautious, considering they ARE in Guatemala.  These trips give me a great chance to see the country, people watch, and even meet some more Nationals.

This Sister is responsible for overseeing the care of the
and the women who care for them
 When we arrived at the orphanage, we were met by Hermana (Sister) Ezmeralda.  She had been at Hermano Pedro, and knew the nurses and I was warmly welcomed as well.  She introduced us to another Sister, about my age, who was in charge of all the children who were still at the home, about 55 of them, ranging from about 1 yr olds to early teens. These are some of the most polite and well mannered kids I've met in Guatemala.  They could not wait to help us get ready for the party we were having, and loved blowing up the balloons for us.

This little guy was bound and determined he'd
blow up a balloon by himself.

My heart was warmed by the love and care these kids show to each other, especially one young man named Mario, who has taken it upon himself to care for Miguel Angel, who has Cerebral Palsy.  Miguel, affectionately called Miki by the Sisters, is in a contraption that looks like an umbrella stroller. 

Mario, who is only 11 himself,  takes him everywhere, makes sure he doesn't miss out on anything, and even feeds him and tucks him in bed at nap time.  When we did the pinata, Mario made sure that Miguel did not miss out, though he really didn't get any candy of his own to speak of.  (I made sure he got some of the "extra" we had, so he was taken care of as well.)  The self-less service of this young man, and the way Miguel is included in everything at the home, touched me deeply.

While the stroller he is in is convenient for moving Miguel from place to place, it does not provide much support for him, and he is continually inclined backwards.  I asked the Sisters about this, and they said that this chair was an improvement over what he had had in the past and was the best they could afford. When I asked if they would like me to see if I could find a proper chair for Miki, they could not believe I was offering to GIVE it to him.   I took some pictures and measurements, and am hoping that Dick, when he returns from Huehuetenango, will help me find a chair for Miguel.  With all that is going on between now and New Years, we will not get there to well into 2011 if we are able to at all.  But I really hope we can help this little guy.  The cost of his chair will be $180, and if any of you would like to help defray this cost, please let me know.

It seems I am making more needs known recently than I have in the past.  This is partly in response to the immediacy of some of the needs I am encountering, but also in response to the admonition of a good friend, support and prayer warrior, who reminded me, "You have not because you ask not."  What I would ask you is that you pray for these needs as they come up, counting on our Father to meet them as He deems best. 

The day was great fun, and I'll leave you with some pictures of the kids enjoying themselves.

This little one was mightier than she looked!

This guy figure out the easiest way to
break the pinata was to poke a hole
in the bottom! LOL

Race for the candy. . .

Guarding his treasure. . .